So I was at dinner this evening with otherwise rational, compassionate adults. There was actually quite a cluster of us, and I was deep in a conversation with the person on my left about Conrad when I overheard drifts of conversation from the west end of the table.
Under discussion was the recent trial in which a woman won a large settlement for being spanked at work. A middle aged woman, she was forced to put her hands on the wall and be paddled. In front of her mostly male, youthful coworkers. Cut and dried case of sexual harassment, right?
Here’s a woman who was trying to hold down a job, support herself in a state with a high cost of living, and attempting to maintain some personal dignity. And because she was late to a sales meeting, she was objectified and humiliated in front of her coworkers. This is the sort of case that causes me to grind my teeth in rage, and I was pleased to see the large settlement for her pain and suffering, because goddamnit, what happened to her is not acceptable. Her settlement was by no means behemoth, either. She won’t be rolling in pits of money and tossing diamonds in the streets–she received a reasonable sum, I believe, given what I know of her case. And no functional member of society should be condoning what happened.
Luckily, my dining companions weren’t condoning the behaviour. Oh no. They were just laughing about the case, making it into a big joke, and belittling her. I sat there, jaw agape, listening to them. I couldn’t believe that I was sitting at the same table as people that boorish, uncivilized, and unfeeling. I couldn’t imagine making a joke out of a case like this, making fun of the woman involved, or indeed being anything other than infuriated.
After a certain point, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up and said “you know, there’s actually a lot more going on in the case than is meeting your eyes. And I am personally disgusted by your behaviour at this table. It’s good to see that we live in such a patriarchal society that making fun of a women who was just trying to support herself, and ended up being humiliated in the midst of a cheering crowd of her male coworkers, is polite dinner conversation.”
The response to my declaration? Laughter.
It’s incidents like this that make me realize how far women’s rights has yet to come, and how much I loathe excessive drinking. Nauseated, I pushed my plate away and contemplated leaving, miserable that I was enduring the company of people like that. That I was willing to compromise myself to the point that I sat out the rest of the meal and politely made my excuses makes me feel faintly foul. That people who are older, and in theory wiser than I, were willing to drag this woman’s name through the mud, to mock her–well, it makes me think we have a lot of problems, as a society. And it makes me very sad that one can stand up to make a point, to defend someone else, and be dismissed with laughter.
Sexual harassment is a big problem. Many of us have been victims of varying forms and degrees of it. And I think we can all agree that it’s still wrong. No employee of any sex should ever feel uncomfortable going to work. No one should be humiliated in front of the coworkers. Everyone should be treated with respect in their workplace, and this is why there are systems in place to deal with harassment complaints.
And people who think otherwise should fornicate themselves with a pitchfork of unusual size. And also are not welcome at my dinner table, ever.